Just 10 minutes before midnight on Sunday, President Donald Trump fired off a cryptic all-caps tweet that was interpreted as an alarming signal that—despite warnings from health experts—he could soon lift the federal social distancing guidelines issued by the White House last week to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
"We really need to come together as a nation. We really, really need everyone to stay at home."
—Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General
"WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF," Trump tweeted, suggesting the economic impacts of preventative measures could be more harmful than the further spread of coronavirus. "AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!"
Trump proceeded to retweet a number of approving responses from his supporters, including one Twitter user who said the U.S. should "isolate the high risk groups and [let] the rest of us get back to work before it's all over for everyone."
The president has repeatedly been chastised by experts for making uninformed statements that either mislead the public or undermine public health warnings in regards to the coronavirus pandemic.
During a press briefing earlier Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would release new guidelines Monday that would allow people who were exposed to the coronavirus to return to work if they wear masks.
The president is signaling that after 15 days he wants to “isolate the high-risk groups” and tell everyone else to go back to work — based on a recommendation from a Twitter rando and in direct contravention to public health experts. pic.twitter.com/v68EQ8EYd4
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) March 23, 2020
The 15-day period to which the president referred began last Monday, when Trump issued guidelines (pdf) urging people to listen to state and local authorities, avoid unnecessary travel, and stay at home as much as possible. A number of states, including California and New York, have issued "stay at home" orders and temporarily shuttered non-essential businesses.
Critics warned in response to Trump's tweet that rolling back efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected more than 33,000 people nationwide, could have catastrophic consequences.
LET LOOSE THE DOGS OF PLAGUE.
I AM BORED WITH HAVING TO "GOVERN" https://t.co/cY25Wiv88C
— Dan Froomkin/PressWatchers.org (@froomkin) March 23, 2020
"This is going to get millions of people killed, and a disproportionately large number of them will be his base," tweeted David Klion, news editor at Jewish Currents.
In a Monday morning appearance on NBC's "TODAY," Trump's own U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said "not enough people are taking the virus seriously" and warned that "this week it's going to get bad."
"We really need to come together as a nation," said Adams. "We really, really need everyone to stay at home."
Osita Nwanevu, staff writer at The New Republic, pointed to an Imperial College of London study warning that an insufficient coronavirus mitigation strategy could result in over a million deaths from the disease in the United States alone.
Nwanevu noted that Trump is not the only one suggesting coronavirus containment measures should soon be lifted for the sake of the economy.
Lloyd Blankfein, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, claimed in a tweet Sunday night—sent about two hours before Trump's—that "extreme measures to flatten the virus 'curve'" risk "crushing the economy, jobs, and morale."
"Within a very few weeks let those with a lower risk to the disease return to work," Blankfein said.
Let's be clear about this: Whether they know it or not, these people, based on reputable estimates, are proposing having a million killed. https://t.co/5m5LZFf6D0
— Osita Nwanevu (@OsitaNwanevu) March 23, 2020
Axios reported Monday that "at the end of the 15-day period, there will likely be a serious clash between the public health experts—who will almost certainly favor a longer period of nationwide social distancing and quarantining—versus the president and his economic and political aides, who are anxious to restart the economy."